Targeting multiple anti-apoptotic proteins is now possible with the small molecule BH3 domain mimetics such as ABT-737. Given recent studies demonstrating that autophagy is a resistance mechanism to multiple therapeutic agents in the setting of apoptotic inhibition, we hypothesized that hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), an anti-malarial drug that inhibits autophagy, will increase cytotoxicity of ABT-737.
Cytotoxicity of ABT-737 and HCQ was assessed in vitro in PC-3 and LNCaP cells, and in vivo in a xenograft mouse model. The role of autophagy as a resistance mechanism was assessed by siRNA knockdown of the essential autophagy gene beclin1. ROS was measured by flow cytometry, and mitophagy assessed by the mCherry-Parkin reporter.
Induction of autophagy by ABT-737 was a mechanism of resistance in prostate cancer cell lines. Therapeutic inhibition of autophagy with HCQ increased cytotoxicity of ABT-737 both in vitro and in vivo. ABT-737 induced LC-3 and decreased p62 expression by immunoblot in cell lines and by immunohistochemistry in tumors in vivo. Assessment of ROS and mitochondria demonstrated that ROS production by ABT-737 and HCQ was a mechanism of cytotoxicity.
We demonstrated that autophagy inhibition with HCQ enhances ABT-737 cytotoxicity in vitro and in vivo, that LC-3 and p62 represent assessable markers in human tissue for future clinical trials, and that ROS induction is a mechanism of cytotoxicity. These results support a new paradigm of dual targeting of apoptosis and autophagy in future clinical studies.